Romans 7.13-25 is a controversial passage, namely because many thoughtful people disagree over what it means. Even though those I disagree with are wrong (ha!), they are still nice people…in a Romans 7 kind of way!
Some people believe a Christian cannot experience what Paul experiences here. Others believe Romans 7 is a Christian, except he is a defeated Christian lacking the victory of Romans 8. For full disclosure, the view that I hold sees Romans 7 as the normal Christian experience. In other words, Romans 7 is not “Past Paul” or “Defeated Paul,” but “Present Paul.”
The Apostle Paul wants us to own the struggle with sin that is so vividly portrayed in Romans 7 as our personal experience for the sake of God’s grace and spiritual sanity. What kind of struggle with sin are we supposed to own? The answer is that the Christian deals with internal conflicting desires: “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (verse 15 and then similarly restated in verse 19). It is like the Christian has multiple selves - sometimes he wants this, sometimes he wants that…sometimes she wants to be this, sometimes she wants to be that.
Practically speaking, life change looks like the dethroned sin condition within you having desires and the being restored you also having desires, which is why Paul says, “So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me” (v.17). When the Christian sins it is no longer their true self, their real self in union with Christ, their deepest identity in Christ who does it, but rather the dethroned sin condition still dwelling within that does.
Own your struggle (and others’ struggle) with sin. The struggle with sin is the mark of being a Christian. Unbelievers do not struggle with sin; they are comfortable with it because sin has dominion. You are now free to admit your struggle with sin, free to struggle joyfully and fearlessly with your sin just like the Apostle Paul: “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Imagine a life of such freedom. Imagine relationships of such realness, safety, acceptance, and encouragement. Imagine a church culture of such humility and gutsy grace. Imagine.